Blacksburg Says No Thanks, Refuses to Lift COVID-19 Restrictions

By Brian Carlton

March 25, 2021

City won’t follow state’s plan to gradually reopen until at least after Tech’s graduation.

BLACKSBURG-They said no thanks. On Tuesday night, the Blacksburg Town Council unanimously voted to keep their current COVID-19 restrictions in place, rather than follow the state’s reopening plan. 

Specifically, Blacksburg’s rules ban “all public and private in person gatherings of more than 50 persons.” There are some exceptions, however.  

Section 5B of the ordinance gives only a few exemptions to the policy. Any type of religious gathering, wedding ceremony, wedding reception or “expressive activity” like a protest “on a public street, public sidewalk [or as a] spontaneous demonstration” can include more than 50 people. Otherwise, there’s a firm cap in place for indoor and outdoor events. 

Now, to be clear, that doesn’t include graduation ceremonies at Virginia Tech. As a state-run university, Tech doesn’t have to follow the town’s 50-person limit. Town officials acknowledged this in a follow-up Facebook post Wednesday. They said the goal was to prevent any post-graduation “private gatherings/parties that could continue the spread of COVID-19 in the student population.” 

This order remains in place until May 16, the final day of Virginia Tech’s graduation ceremonies this semester. The concern is that college students won’t follow protocol by wearing a mask and social distancing. More than that, council members pointed out that most the Tech students don’t currently qualify for the vaccine. Since they’re healthy, the students fall into Phase 2 of the vaccine plan. 

Blacksburg Not in Phase 2 Yet

As the majority of the state is still stuck in Phase 1B due to limited supply, most Tech students haven’t been able to get vaccinated. That’s a concern for council members. They worry about students possibly starting an outbreak by not following directions with any type of private celebration. Blacksburg’s maintained rules stricter than the state since last August, when they put the gathering limit in place. 

“The students are still here,” Blacksburg council member Jerry Ford Jr. said. “We adopted a stricter standard, above and beyond what the governor required, because of our unique circumstances. Until they go home in May, nothing’s changed.” 

Ford’s fellow council member echoed his concern. 

“For our town, being a college town, we know our situation is different,” said council member Lauren Colliver.”

Tech Makes Changes

Tech officials also made some changes this week, although they pointed out it had nothing to do with Blacksburg’s decision. With the uncertainty over vaccinations, university officials said now is not the time to hold a spring football game. 

“Following the local and state guidelines, and in consultation with campus officials, we determined that we would not be able to provide our traditional fan experience,” said Tech’s Director of Athletics Whit Babcock in a statement. “It would not be in the best interest of the Blacksburg and Virginia Tech communities to hold a spring game in 2021.”  

More than that, Babcock said it was hard to determine how to give out the allotted number of tickets. 

“It would have been limited to guests of student-athletes and would not have provided an opportunity for many fans to come to Lane Stadium anyway,” Babcock wrote. “Even if the appropriate officials and agencies were to move to an increased attendance protocol in the near term, it’s just too soon to jump back into it. I wish we could and we will soon; when it’s appropriate.”  

Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. You can reach him at [email protected].

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